There’s no denying it: social media has changed the way we interact with each other. People are tweeting live from events, “checking in” on Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram and commenting on, liking or sharing just about everything. The amount of personal information that social media users willingly put “out there” is staggering.
But did you ever stop to think about how helpful this information could be in an investigation?
There are hundreds of social media sites— the most popular being Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Keek, Google+, YouTube, Linked in, and FourSquare. On sites like these, users disclose a great deal of personal information – information that they would not necessarily be willing to divulge to their employers, potential employers, or investigators. Many social media sites allow the user to control what information is visible to the public, but this feature is not always used. And what an opportunity this is for investigators!
Some of the information that may be gained through social media analysis includes but is definitely not limited to:
By taking advantage of this information, an investigator can build a timeline of events, confirm an alibi, identify relationships between individuals or even locate a subject in real-time.
Below are some practical examples about how social media might help an investigation…
It is important to note that the use of social media should be fully documented, and the authentication of evidence gathered must be considered.
Social media is a great tool for the investigator’s toolbox, and its importance will only continue to increase. Investigators need to leverage its capabilities and capitalize on users’ willingness to share an inordinate personal information with the online community. The accessibility and expediency of social media allows for its power to often go overlooked.
However, if investigators can learn anything from the movie The Social Network it would be this: “The Internet’s not written in pencil … It’s written in ink.”